Although youth narcotics use is down, potency of ‘street drugs’ is up

Source: Palo Alto Online
By: Chris Kenrick

Use of narcotics — like those allegedly ingested by the Palo Alto 18-year-old who was arrested after trespassing and fighting residents on Colorado Avenue Friday, April 4 — has declined among local youth, according to survey data.

But police and youth counselors said the increased potency of many of today’s street drugs combined with relaxed attitudes toward marijuana use still land too many local teens in the hospital or in jail.

Police booked 18-year-old Daiki Minaki of Palo Alto on one count of felony battery and six misdemeanor charges (resisting arrest, battery on an officer, under the influence of narcotics, battery and two counts of trespassing) after apprehending him naked in Midtown, having allegedly beaten a woman walking her dog and fought two residents in their homes.

“This kind of episode is not common — and I understand why we are curious and concerned,” said Becky Beacom, manager of health education at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

“Our small percentages (of narcotics use by youth) still translate into too-high numbers of actual youth whom we care about and, in this particular case, innocent victims as well.”

Self-reported use of prescription narcotics, such as oxycontin and vicodin — even once — dropped among Palo Alto 11th graders from 9 percent in 2010 to 7 percent in 2012, according to the California Healthy Kids Survey. Use of heroin in the same period dropped from 2 percent to 1 percent. New survey results for 2014 are expected to be released soon, Beacom said.

Police and drug counselors could only speculate on how Minaki could have ingested whatever substance allegedly sparked Friday’s outburst that led to his arrest.

But they said increased potency of today’s street drugs can have unintended consequences, whether someone is a first-time user or a repeat user.

“It could be that he thought he was smoking marijuana and it was laced with something,” said Darin Conway, a therapist who runs the mental-health counseling program at Los Gatos High School through Counseling and Support Services for Youth (CASSY).

“The rules still apply that if you’re at a party and you’re drinking something, don’t set your drink down and leave it alone and pick it up again, because you never know what somebody’s going to slip into something,” she said. “Drugs are drugs — they’re illegal and they’re not regulated so you never know exactly what you’re getting.”

Palo Alto Police Detective Sergeant Brian Philip said he sees a serious problem in Palo Alto with abuse of prescription drugs among youth. “They’ll either take it from their parents or go into other parents’ medicine cabinets at high school parties,” Philip said.

Philip said he’s seen local high school students who were crushing and encapsulating painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and vicodin, cutting dosages in half and selling them by the pill.

But alcohol and marijuana remain the paramount issues for Palo Alto teens, police and counselors said.

Moves toward legalizing marijuana in some states have led to a reduction in perceived risk of what actually remains a dangerous drug for teens, they said.

“Marijuana is a very serious problem. It’s a gateway drug,” Philip said. “It can have serious effects on someone’s developing brain.”

In the 2012 California Healthy Kids Survey, 23 percent of Palo Alto 11th graders reported having used marijuana four or more times — slightly up from 21 percent in 2010. Thirty-two percent reported having used alcohol four or more times — down from 37 percent in 2010.

Palo Alto police cited 22 juveniles for possession of marijuana, either on school campuses or in the community, since Jan. 1, 2013, he said.

In two recent cases, a Palo Alto middle school student was caught smoking marijuana in a school bathroom and a high school student on campus was found in possession of narcotics, marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia, according to Palo Alto Police Detective and School Resource Officer DuJuan Green.

Therapist Connie Mayer, director of outpatient counseling services at Palo Alto’s Adolescent Counseling Services, said she was not surprised by the apparent bad reaction Minaki experienced last Friday.

“The only real surprise here is that he wasn’t wearing any clothes and was quite violent,” she said. “We see teens that are overdosing and having bad reactions” leading to hospitalizations.

Adolescent Counseling Services Executive Director Philippe Rey said, “There’s a trend of community apathy when it comes to drug use — especially marijuana — where parents will no longer put their kids in treatment because it’s ‘only marijuana’ and as long as they’re keeping their grades up, who cares?

“We’re still talking about underage kids with their brain functions still developing, and it may affect their cognitive abilities and development.”

Mayer said there’s a “misperception that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, especially with legalization and with parents who may have smoked in the ’60s and ’70s.

“But it’s a different drug now, much more potent,” she said. “There are derivatives of potency that are unbelievable.

“There’s so much shame in this community, and we reduce that here,” she said. “We provide a safe place for parents and teens to talk, without pain or shame, about what’s going on and to heal.”

Adolescent Counseling Services has a program, Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Program, that addresses all stages of drug use. The program also hosts bi-monthly substance abuse workshops. To learn more about the program and workshops go to: www.acs-teens.org